April 24, 2023

Ask Amy: My Kid Is Not Great at Apologizing

Kids sometimes view saying “sorry” as a get-out-of-jail-free card. I said the magic word, Mom, why are you still mad? But sorry is only the first step in a proper apology.

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How do we get kids to view saying "sorry" as more than a get-out-of-jail-free card? This week's question comes from our Facebook page:

I have 5-year-old and 2-year-old boys. My question: how do you help kids around 5 years old understand the meaning of "sorry"? My son will do something wrong– and know it’s wrong before he does it– then immediately say he’s sorry. I try to give him a punishment to help him understand what he did was wrong, but he will still do the action again, then say, “Well, I said I was sorry." How do I help him understand the meaning of being sorry so he won’t do the action again?

Not all kids are great at apologies. And grownups sometimes go at this the wrong way too, overemphasizing a perfunctory, mumbled "sorry" from the wrongdoer and then moving on. "That's where the conversation ends," says writer Rachael Rifkin in Today's Parents, "with little if any discussion of what happened, why it was hurtful to the person they’re apologizing to, how they can address the hurt they caused, and what they can do to change their behavior."

When it comes to apologies, elementary school teacher JoEllen Poon has a great 3-step approach that hits all the key points. Help your child complete these three sentences:

1)I’m sorry for...

2) This is wrong because...

3) In the future I will...

A 5-year-old will need some help with this at first, of course. But keep at it and he'll start to really understand what Daniel Tiger said best: saying "sorry" is only the first step.

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